Five things to watch in tonight’s Coca-Cola 600
CONCORD, N.C. - A warning or a premonition?
Kevin Harvick tweeted Sunday morning that “it’s a good sign when you wake up early feeling good because 600 miles is a long day and night! #ready #4thewin.’’
That could be bad for the rest of the field in tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Harvick and Jimmie Johnson have combined to win the last seven points races on 1.5-mile speedways. Their dominance dates back to last fall’s race at Charlotte. In all four of Johnson’s wins during this stretch, Harvick finished second. In the seven races, Johnson and Harvick have combined to lead 51.1 percent of the 2,135 laps run.
“I think as you look at our strengths as the No. 4 team and how we ran last week and the way Kurt (Busch) ran last week, I think from a Stewart-Haas standpoint, we feel really good … and where we are with things,’’ Harvick said. “I feel like, hopefully, we’ve made ourselves better than what we were last week. You just never know, obviously. As you look at the results, the 1.5-mile tracks have been really good for us. This track in general, for the No. 4 team in general, has been good since really all last year when we finished second in all three races.’’
Denny Hamlin won last weekend’s non-points Sprint All-Star Race, giving the field hope that Harvick and Johnson can be beat. The driver with the best chance to do so, though, could be Harvick’s teammate, Busch, who was the fastest in both practice sessions Saturday. He starts 14th.
That’s just among the storylines for Sunday’s race. Here are others:
Bad luck has Kasey Kahne in the back. A flat left rear during qualifying ruined Kahne’s lap and he’ll start tonight’s race 33rd. Remember, he’s a three-time winner of this event. His starting spot could be a challenge. No driver has started worse and won this race since 2003 when Jimmie Johnson started 37th.
“We definitely know we don’t have to pass all of them at the start,’’ Kahne said. “You can take your time and get there when we need to be there. The track is going to change the entire race. Just having the right balance late in the race is what it’s all about.”
Can someone new win this race? There have been only six different winners in the last 12 years of this race. The field is full of drivers still searching for their first win in the 600 including Joey Logano (starting second), Denny Hamlin (last week’s All-Star winner who is starting fifth) and Carl Edwards (who finished fourth last year and starts third tonight), among others. An added incentive for Logano is that Sunday is his 25th birthday.
After his return last week, Kyle Busch now must drive 600 miles. This could be a tough challenge for Busch, who suffered a broken right leg and left foot in a Feb. 21 accident during the Xfinity race at Daytona and did not compete until last weekend’s All-Star event. Erik Jones will be on standby and drove a few laps in practice Saturday. Busch is confident he can go. The key will be to see how he does late in the race. Can he make the car better and gain spots or will he falter and fall back?
Jeff Gordon continues to look for his first victory of the season. Gordon started the day driving the pace car for the 99th Indianapolis 500 and then flew to Charlotte for tonight’s race. He starts 18th. He’s coming off a fourth-place finish at Kansas earlier this month in the most recent points race at a 1.5-mile speedway. Can he complete his magical day with a victory?